During the 19th and much of the 20th century, the media in Latvia operated under strict conditions of censorship. Freedom of the press was observed in between 1918 and 1934 and since the Latvian independence drive (Atmoda) in the late 1980s. In 1924, a liberal press law took effect in Latvia, ensuring freedom of the press until 1934, when an authoritarian regime governed the country after a coup.
There are currently several laws and secondary legislation that regulate the media in Latvia, many of these dating back to the 1990s. Freedom of speech is constitutionally guaranteed in Latvia. The Constitution was adopted in 1922 and reinstated in 1991. Article 100 states that “each person shall have the right to freedom of speech, which includes the right to freely acquire, possess and distribute information and to express his or her opinions. Censorship is prohibited.”
The Law on the Press and other Mass Media took effect in 1991. It also enshrines freedom of the press and bans censorship and monopolisation of the press and other mass media. The law prescribes how the mass media are registered, operate and end their operations. It addresses the types of information that must not be published, retraction of false news, protects the confidentiality of sources, the rights and obligations of journalists, etc.
The Freedom of Information Law adopted in 1998 ensures people have access to information that is at the disposal of government institutions or which must be disclosed. The law sets out a unified procedure whereby private individuals can obtain and use such information.
Electronic Mass Media Law regulates operational arrangements and rules of electronic mass media existing under the jurisdiction of Latvia. It also includes sections on public service media and public service remit.
Other laws which pertain to the media include the Law on Advertising, the Personal Data protection Law, Copyright Law, the Law on the State Language and the Law on Information Society Services. English translations of some laws can be found on the Likumi.lv portal (website giving free and systemised access to legislative acts).
In spring 2010, the police conducted a search of the apartment of a Latvian television journalist with the aim of identifying her sources of information. More than 120 journalists signed an open letter demanding amendments to the law to protect journalists and their sources and to strengthen the principle of freedom of speech. The case eventually went to the European Court of Human Rights, which found that there had been a violation of the journalist’s right to freedom of expression (see Nagla v. Latvia).
In the spring of 2015 a new Media Policy Division was established at the Ministry of Culture. In the media field the ministry elaborates and coordinates media policy while promoting freedom of expression. The overarching objective of Latvian media policy is a strong, pluralistic, professional, transparent, sustainable and stable media environment in which:
- quality content in the interest of Latvian society and the common good is produced at the national, regional and local level. This content should promote the reflection of the fundamental values expressed in the constitution and its preamble in the national media space with priority being given to the Latvian language;
- the interests of the various players in the sector are balanced;
- the public has access to independent and trustworthy information and the knowledge to use it.
The action plan of the Media Policy Guidelines approved by the Cabinet on 8 November 2016 envisages concrete tasks and activities to improve the media environment. The Guidelines set out five core principles and fields for action:
- Media diversity;
- Media quality and responsibility;
- Professionalism of the media environment;
- Media literacy;
- Resilience of the media environment.
The action plan foresees the drafting of new media legislation by the middle of 2018 that would replace the Law on the Press and other Mass Media and the Electronic Mass Media Law. The aim is to improve the resilience of the normative base regulating the media and its fitness for purpose. For example, the current Press Law was adopted 25 years ago and is seriously outdated. Although the Electronic Mass Media Law was adopted in 2010 and amended several times, it still needs to be improved, especially in light of the revision of the EU Audiovisual Media Services Directive.